Within the Limits of Civic Training: Education Moderates the Relationship Between Openness and Political Attitudes



Research demonstrates that the Big-Five's Openness to Experience is inversely associated with political conservatism. This literature, however, implicitly assumes that the strength of this relationship is invariant across the electorate. We challenge this assumption by arguing that education—an institution designed to increase civic competence—affects the degree to which personality predicts various political attitudes. Specifically, we posit that education facilitates people's ability to identify issue positions that (theoretically) resonate with their personality. Using a national probability sample of New Zealand voters (n = 6,518), we show that education consistently moderates the relationship between personality and a host of political attitudes. Whereas Openness to Experience is inversely associated with politically conservative issue positions among the highly educated, it is often uncorrelated with the same attitudes among those with low levels of educational attainment. These results identify an important—though often neglected—moderator of the relationship between personality and political attitudes.